American cinema has completely retarded the spoof genre. I could pin the blame on Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, but they don't deserve credit for anything, ever. Few understand the delicate nature of the homage, and the majority meticulously rapes source material for visuals rather than tone. Luckily, Michael Jai White is not a part of that majority. He's Black Dynamite, star of the film Black Dynamite, one of the most inspired comedies I've seen in years. Keenen Ivory Wayans has been replaced as three-named king of blaxploitation spoofs. Black Dynamite puts the "rod" in parody.
As an early-'80s baby, my knowledge of blaxploitation is limited to early viewings with my dad, who was probably more into the kung-fu than the sociological aspect. I can honestly say my enjoyment of the film was not affected at all by that, but I wonder if rabid fans of the genre are as pleased as I am, or if they'll grow tired of the spot-on, almost redundant tricks used here. After all, I initially loved Hot Shots because I hated, rather than loved Top Gun. An example would be the overtly literal soundtrack lyrics about things happening onscreen. A very real thing in films then, its use here still manages to draw smiles with lyrics that actually come before the onscreen action. Like many jokes in Black Dynamite, it's subdued and doesn't ask you to laugh at it, but it's there if you want to.
The deceptively simple plot of Black Dynamite, conceived by White and Byron Minns, is as steeped in convention as you'd think. After a drug deal gone wrong ends in his brother's murder, Black Dynamite reaccepts his "license to kill" and returns to his former post in the CIA. He rounds up a group of ridiculously aloof gangsters to aid him in cleaning up the streets (including freeing an orphanage from a smack problem) and halting the widespread distribution of Anaconda Malt Liquor throughout the region. Helping him are pimp/informant Cream Corn (a zany Tommy Davidson), the line-rhyming Dolemite-lite Bullhorn (Minns), and a group of pimps and hustlers including Arsenio Hall, Cedric Yarborough, Bokeem Woodbine, John Salley, and a militant Phil Morris, all of whom are predictably adept at nailing their performances. Other stars include Kevin Chapman as CIA guy O'Leary, James McManus and Nicole Sullivan as Richard Nixon and wife, Salli Richardson as Black Dynamite's love interest Gloria, Kym Whitley as queen hoe Honeybee, and still many more waiting for you to identify them. Yes, I did say Richard Nixon. This one goes all the way to the top, brother.
While the plot is similar to many of the era, Black Dynamite works as a parody due to Scott Sanders' deliberately amateurish direction and Adrian Younge's continuity-skewered editing, both of which come very close to topping the laughs brought on by White's supa-fly performance. Almost every gimmick possible is milked for humor, and for me, it all worked. I know not everyone will get into it, and for some it will grow old, but those people will probably stop looking for the details, and they are what make Black Dynamite as good as any Zucker-Abrams-Zucker production. Sure, the boom-mike jokes are cheap, and some puns are groan-worthy, but for each one of those, there are a dozen moments that ham-fistedly redeem it. Example: inside a vehicle, the driver is turned to the backseat while he talks, but through the windshield, the stock footage shown has curves and things that would be impossible to drive blindly. Explained like that, the humor isn't really present, but when viewed, it's a delightful little detail that might go unnoticed if you're not looking for it.
Of course, all of the intentionally mismatched edits and close-ups would be nothing if they weren't anchored by the balls-out sincerity that Michael Jai White brings to the title role. Every time he wields a nunchuck or sets up an around-the-corner kick to the face, Black Dynamite oozes badassery. He puts jive turkeys and chump crackers in their place without shifting a hair in his mustache. He makes the ladies melt like butter on a Roscoe's waffle (another great throwaway gag). There are so many moments that are made or broken just on how large White's eyes will widen, or how fast he delivers some confoundingly silly dialogue. There is a scene late in the movie that comedically takes the extreme long route to get from fact A to fact B, reminiscent of the "how to tell a witch" scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, except much more fractured and unbelievable. White has been in so many movies, it's a strange turn to see him in this movie, but it's all the more welcome for it.
Remember, the name of the movie is Black Dynamite. If you see something come out in the next year called Blaxploitation Movie, or Not Another Adult Gangster Flick, know to stay away. Black Dynamite will blow your mind if you let it, and if it does, Black Dynamite might just let you blow him. Jive-ass turkeys!
It isn't exactly packed with material, but the Black Dynamite DVD still has a lot going for it. The picture is gloriously grainy and makes me want to watch it on an old Philco or GE set. The sound is better though, and has a damned fine funk/soul soundtrack even when the jokes aren't written into them. A much clearer recording is the commentary by Sanders, White, and Minns, which is well worth the listen. Much source material is referenced (using the word "homage" instead of "blatant rip on"), and it's fun to hear how misunderstood the project was by many people before the final film was complete. It lacks the fluff that clogs some comedy film commentaries.
The alternate and deleted scenes extra, clocking in around 30 minutes, is of course more enjoyable than your average movie's offerings. There's much laughter to be had, even if nothing comes off as overly memorable. The main featurette, "Lighting the Fuse," is above par compared to other releases. It covers a large amount of ground, detailing its inspirations and concept building (complete with a hilariously low-quality promo trailer), also covering characters, costumes, film stock, soundtrack, editing, and more. It's the antithesis to any movie's promo shown on something like the TV Guide channel. Lastly, we have "The ComicCon Experience," which rehashes a lot of previously shared information, just in a panel setting rather than one by one. It is encouraging to see how pleased the cast and crew is with the finished product, as well they should be.
Black Dynamite is definitely going in my movie collection, and it should have a spot in yours as well. Just don't be surprised if you get home one day and find that Black Dynamite put the kung-fu to your other movies and had some damned fine sex with your wife or girlfriend. This disc don't play around.